This article from a former superintendent of the UDSD appeared in the online edition of the Daily Times.



Ex-U.D. Super: Ideas for Picking Next Schools Boss
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Times Guest Columnist

Here are a few suggestions related to the search for the next superintendent of schools in the Upper Darby School District.

1. Consensus building: A key characteristic of the next Upper Darby School District educational leader must be the ability to build consensus among staff and parents and political/community leaders in order to foster “unified” educational directions. Being a good listener is certainly important here. Transparency with all groups is very critical to building consensus. Through all of this, the superintendent of schools must be the chief advocate for students.

And most important of all, the basis for all decision making should be ultimately driven by what is best for Upper Darby students as guided by educational research and proven best practices.

2. Emphasize what really matters: “Teaching to the test” may in fact improve annual standardized test scores and earn simplistic applause but such one-dimensional gains are not the same thing as creating a high quality education for students. Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind,” now translated into at least 12 languages and used as a key resource for many businesses and corporations, offers a thesis of what it will take to succeed in the world of tomorrow. It is very much the opposite of what we are doing in schools today. Pink notes that for businesses deluged with data and filled with options and choices, what matters most are the abilities that are in the right hemisphere of the brain — artistry, designing, innovation, inventing, and synthesizing. This is certainly not the current practice of obsessing on and orchestrating a few more correct answers on tests each year and then proclaiming educational success.

In this context, music, dramatics, art and subjects that require curiosity and creativity at school must be valued and enhanced since they can pay great dividends as the means of engaging pupil interest and creating meaningful educational outcomes. In all classrooms, activities for students that emphasize discussion, debate, analysis, and complex problem solving should be accented.

3. Ask the people closest to reality: Upper Darby’s new superintendent initially needs to be given input where it counts by visiting all of the schools to talk to the faculty and staff about what might be done to improve and/or enhance the educational opportunities for students. Similarly, open discussions with parent constituencies in the schools can add a depth of ideas prior to action planning or any new directions being initiated. Bottom-up change is much more likely to succeed than top-down omniscience.

4. Parent involvement is critical: Parents have been and continue to be the primary and most important teachers of their children. Efforts by the schools to engage and involve parents must be ongoing and intense.

5. Cultivate and treasure “caring staff members:” Excellent teachers are the most valuable assets of a school system. They bring out potential among the average and the bright as well as often saving pupils who are struggling. Classroom teachers are undervalued in American society and sometimes underrated by top-level school leaders. The most effective superintendents cultivate, model and celebrate the accomplishments of principals and teachers who make that positive difference for their students.

Bludgeoning schools to greatness is a naïve concept that has been tried many times in many places and has never worked anywhere in the world.

6. School leadership matters: In most cases, the success of any school can be measured by the length of the shadow cast by the school principal. That leadership ranks right behind effective classroom instruction as the best way to improve schools. Upper Darby’s principals must have support and encouragement as well as “plenty of rope” from the central administration, i.e., the freedom to innovate and take chances with new programs and ideas.

Joseph P. Batory was the superintendent of schools in Upper Darby from 1984 to 1999. A resident of Philadelphia, Batory is the recipient of the Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of School Administrators.

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